Saturday, May 19, 2007

Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go

There is no question that the city of Flint faces the challenge of crime as well as economic hardships. Flint’s crime rate surpasses the national average in almost every felony. As the city tries to restore law and order, city administrators are forced to consider the practical realities which hinder their ability to provide crime prevention to the citizens of Flint. For instance, there is little space to house all who are arrested in Flint on a daily basis. Mayor Williamson’s solution is to open more jails. Makes sense. If there is not enough space then why not create more space. On the surface, the simplicity of this plan seems like pure genius. Many love this idea including the police who feel they are making a difference when the criminals they put in jail are not just walking through the jail’s revolving door, but are incarcerated till trial where they belong. However, this is deceptively simple.

While I support the jail being re-opened, the Mayor’s plan leads to uncertainty as to how long the jail will remain open. Like almost all of the Mayor's policies, the re-opening of the jail is not fully explained and the public is placated by his financial contributions to other similar programs. The reality is that the jail would require the employment of about 30 guards, upkeep on the facilities, and money to support the jail’s population. These costs could rise past $1 million per year assuming the guards are paid $30,000 a year. The fate of the jail depends upon the Mayor funding the facility and its staff from the Flint Auto Auctions o junkyards, but it is hard to believe that the auto auctions will be able to support the jails permanently considering they make on average about $500,000 a year.

All of his other solutions depend upon his continued monetary support. Where will we Flint be when he is no longer funning for mayor? Just like the mayor's dumpsters, which littered our streets when he was running for Mayor, the funds for the jail could dry up and leave the city in the unfortunate position of releasing prisoners and employees. This smells like a political stunt designed to win the Mayor votes in time for the campaign season and it would be irresponsible to rely on the Mayor’s patronage.

None of the Mayor’s plans are designed to rebuild our city. Instead of aiding that effort, he constantly struggles against those who are trying to build long-term, enduring solutions like the Genesee County Land Bank, Uptown Development Corporation, and the Mott Foundation. Really, the Land Bank is one of the only government agencies in Flint which has had success. Affordable downtown lofts, small businesses tailored to meet the demands of college students, and the rejuvenation of Flint neighborhoods can all be attributed to these actors. Political favors at election time are not going to be enough to fix Flint’s problems. If we want to rebuild our community we will have to do it from the ground up and avoid relying on the simple solutions. Putting criminals behind bars will help the city, but we must also work to support such a project financially. Plus, this alone will not save Flint. It will take a reinvigorated downtown built to support a diverse economy built off of our abundance of opportunities in higher education. Only by rebuilding Flint's workforce and securing jobs for the future will crime decrease. If there is anything that our community must take from Flint’s history, it’s that we cannot depend upon short-sighted visions for our community and we must focus on building long-term solutions that will endure the test of time.

- Keith

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